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Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson

The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding

Darren Staloff

Hill and Wang

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ISBN10: 080905356X
ISBN13: 9780809053568

Trade Paperback

432 Pages



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A Choice Outstanding Academic Title

In this book, Darren Staloff forcefully reminds us that America owes its guiding political traditions to three founding fathers whose lives embodied the collision of Europe's grand Enlightenment project with the birth of the nation.

Alexander Hamilton, the worldly New Yorker; John Adams, the curmudgeonly Yankee; Thomas Jefferson, the visionary Virginia squire—each steered his public life under the guideposts and constraints of Enlightenment principles, and for each his relationship to the politics of Enlightenment was transformed by the struggle for American independence. Repeated humiliation on America's battlefield banished Hamilton's youthful idealism, leaving him a fervent disciple of enlightened realpolitik and the nation's leading exponent of modern statecraft. After ten years in Europe's diplomatic trenches, Adams changed his stance toward the politics of Enlightenment, a stance that became increasingly that of the gadfly of his country. And Jefferson's frustrations as a reformer and then Revolutionary governor in Virginia led him to go beyond his previous enlightened worldview, and to articulate a new and radical Romantic politics of principle. As a consequence, Americans demand a government that is modern and efficient yet constrained by checks and balances, one capable of appealing to our loftiest aspirations while adhering to decidedly pragmatic policies.

Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson is a reminder that the world of ideas is inextricably bound up in the long trajectory of historical events.


Praise for Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson

"Thoughtful, infectious in its enthusiasm, and briskly argued."—Leslie Kitchen, History News Network

"In demonstrating how men could agree in principle about the founding of the nation yet disagree in the policies they chose to pursue, [Darren Staloff] effectively highlights some important causes and consequences of the American Revolution."—Brent Tarter, Richmond Times Dispatch

"This is a look at three of the most influential members of our founding government—influential at the time and throughout the years we have grown as a nation."—Michael L. Ramsey, The Roanoke Times

"A penetrating examination of how three of America's greatest leaders reacted to—and against—the Enlightenment. An illuminating read."—Susan Dunn, author of Jefferson's Second Revolution: The Election Crisis of 1800 and the Triumph of Republicanism

"A lucid argument, usefully extending the intellectual history of the American Revolution by interrogating three great revolutionaries."—Kirkus Reviews

"In profiling the lives and beliefs of these Founders, [Staloff] has masterfully shown how their particular visions continue to influence our nation. Hamilton brought a strain of realpolitik and skepticism regarding the abstraction of the 'popular will.' Adams, constantly fearful of the corruption of concentrated power, sought solace in checks and balances. Jefferson's soaring (and sometimes dangerous) visions provided a romantic streak to our political discourse. This book is a wonderful reexamination of three men who jointly molded the underpinnings of the new republic."—Jay Freeman, Booklist

"Responding to the continuing demand by the reading public for books about the Founding Fathers, Staloff provides a biographical and intellectual comparison among three major early American statesmen . . . Intended to be suggestive rather than conclusive, Staloff's is another . . . contribution to the growing literature on America's original greatest generation."—Library Journal (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson

AT A SLENDER five feet seven inches, Alexander Hamilton cast an immense shadow over...

About the author

Darren Staloff

Darren Staloff teaches history at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of The Making of an American Thinking Class: Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in Puritan Massachusetts.